It's official: Spring has arrived. Sure, it may be colder outside today than it was during the last few weeks of winter, but the calendar doesn't lie. So, time to abandon those malty, high-octane brews designed to brace against the snow that never came. Now's the time to try an India Pale Ale (IPA for short), a crisp ale that's heavy on the hops and perfect for spring drinking. IPA originated in Britain. Cranking up the hops naturally preserved the beer on the long trek to India, and as a plus, complemented the spicy cuisine of the East. A number of American breweries have introduced an IPA, just in time for the season.
Bottled in a "Victorian Pint" (18.7 ounces), Samuel Smith's India Ale has won numerous accolades, including a gold medal and "Best of 2003" at the World Beer Championships. From Yorkshire, England's oldest brewery, consider it the benchmark for IPAs. Citrus and sour malt holds it together, interlaced with very smooth, just bitter hops. A full-bodied, satisfying brew with a light touch of sweetness on the finish.
Lagunitas India Pale Ale from Petaluma, California, sports smooth hops from beginning to end, backed by light malt with just the barest hint of caramel. The hop attack is not too aggressive, but very persistent with a smooth kiss of citrus on the finish. An exceptionally clean and refreshing brew. New from the Widmer Brothers in Portland, Oregon, the Brewmasters' Release W '05 India Pale Ale is an exceptionally well-balanced effort. Rich, smooth hops are set against a nicely malted middle palate, finishing with bright, fairly aggressive hops and lemon zest. A personal favorite that's perfect for spring.
From Hood River, Oregon, the Full Sail IPA is another nice ale that does a good job of playing the lightly bitter hops against smooth malt flavors. With hints of grapefruit on the finish, this very smooth and light brew would make a good intro to IPAs for the uninitiated. On the other end of the spectrum, and at over 11 bucks for a 26-ounce bottle, the Rogue Imperial Pale Ale is outrageously expensive and outrageously good. A big brew closest in style to the Samuel Smith's, but much, much richer-the malt is sweet and velvety, the hops, nicely bitter. Bracingly bold, should work best for the colder (hopefully rainy) days of spring.